China economy

By Spencer Lake, HSBC

Chinese companies have been stepping up their global investment spree in the past 12 months. Mergers and acquisitions by private Chinese investors are becoming the key drivers of the country’s outbound direct investment.

In what has been called the ‘Third Wave’ of China outbound direct investment (ODI), the focus of investment has been on companies in the developed economies in high-tech and services. Previous ‘waves’ have focused on supporting developing economies and investing in commodities and extraction industries. Read more

A month ago, in the largest military parade held on Red Square since the days of Stalin, one foreign guest drew as much attention as the fearsome hardware on display. While leading the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of victory in what Russians call “the Great Patriotic War”, Vladimir Putin had by his side the congenial Chinese president, Xi Jinping.

President Putin hoped Xi’s presence would symbolise a new, multipolar world order, with Moscow and Beijing playing leading roles. Ultimately, Russian strategic thinking continues to assume, as it has since the days of the Tsars, that military and geopolitical power precede and largely determine a nation’s wealth and prestige. Read more

Even Western executives who are good at geography may have a hard time picking out Surat, Foshan and Porto Alegre on a map. Yet over the next decade, each of these cities will contribute more to global economic growth than Madrid, Milan or Zurich.

While China’s move to cut interest rates this month has sparked some concern about emerging-market growth, , we see no let-up in one of the most disruptive trends of our time: the shift of the world’s center of economic gravity from advanced economies to the developing world, and in particular, to rapidly growing cities in Asia, Latin American and Africa. Even at 6 to 7 per cent growth, China is adding the equivalent of a Canada to the global economy every two years.

We are currently living through the biggest mass migration from countryside to cities in human history. The global population of cities is growing by 65m people annually – that’s the equivalent of 7 Chicagos a year, every year. Between now and 2025, we calculate that 440 cities in developing countries will generate nearly half of global GDP growth. Read more

By Wesley Wu-Yi Koo and Lizhi Liu

Behind China’s impressive economic rise is the biggest human migration in history. By 2013, some 269m rural residents had become migrant workers in cities, offering cheap labour and sustaining urban growth. However, unable to register and settle their family members in the cities, these migrant workers are forced to leave behind children, spouses, and old people in the villages. This has taken a tremendous toll on the rural society.

Today, there are 61m “left-behind children” and 40m “left-behind elderly” in Chinese villages. Some 79 per cent of the left-behind children are under the care of grandparents, who are often uneducated and lack parenting resources and energy. As a result, the academic scores of 88 per cent of these children fall below what would be the passing line in cities. Read more

Noticeable progress has been made recently in Chinese companies in the areas of capital structure, management and employee incentivisation.

It is has long been said – with some justification – that aligning interests between stakeholders in China was almost impossible. Consequently the majority holder, historically the government in most instances, would dictate expansion plans based on broader economic objectives rather than narrower shareholder return motivations. Read more

Arguably the most revealing English translation of the French verb ‘étonner’ – at least in the context of Napoleon’s famous quip about China – is ‘to astonish’. “Ici repose un géant endormi, laissez le dormir, car quand il s’éveillera, il étonnera le monde” so the Corsican is said to have noted. “Here lies a sleeping giant, let him sleep, for when he wakes, he will astonish the world.”

Some 200 years later, that giant has awoken and Napoleon was right: China is now astonishing the world. In the past three decades, it has roused itself from a slumber to a state of almost unimaginable vibrancy. The roll-call of economic trophies it now claims is daunting: largest exporter, importer, foreign exchange reserve owner, commodity consumer, luxury goods market, most car sales, most internet users, even (in purchasing power parity terms) biggest economy. Read more

The ever ingenious Chinese financial system has developed a new kind of shadow bank – insurance companies.

China’s $586bn stimulus package in 2009 caused a flurry of lending through the country’s financial arteries. Some of this money ended up leaking out of the banks into unofficial channels, including the country’s state banks and the giant provincially-owned pseudo banks called Trust Companies. By the end of 2014, these off-balance sheet loans accounted for 18 per cent of all financing, up from less than 2 per cent a decade earlier. Read more

The first whispers of worry about a Chinese property bubble surfaced in late 2009. Since then, the local real estate market has quickened and slowed in line with government measures to stoke or cool the market, but has never crashed. Nonetheless, some market watchers insist that the Chinese property bubble will burst one day. Recent sector weakness has given them further ammunition, as has the near collapse of Kaisa, a mid-sized Shenzhen-based developer.

Until December 2014, Kaisa’s finances were perceived to be strong and sales were rising. Now its survival is at the mercy of lenders and rivals. Its woes started when the government halted some of its Shenzhen projects in December without giving a reason. The chairman abruptly resigned, while debts to banks and bondholders have gone unpaid and the firm is in the process of being acquired by its competitor. It has yet to reach a consensual solution with its creditors. Read more

After China’s notable political success in registering more than 35 applicants for funding membership of the yet to be launched Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), some important issues remain to be addressed that will determine the long term success of the new institution.

Scope of intervention: China-centric or Asia-focused? It is no coincidence that the set-up of the bank comes at the same time Beijing is rolling out its “one road, one belt” action plan. The revival of the Silk Road is part of the charm initiative aiming at winning greater consideration from neighboring countries as much as fostering trade relationships. Read more

By Andy Rothman, Matthews Asia

Will China’s real estate market crash? No, not in my opinion. China’s residential property market is significantly softer now. But I believe there is very little risk of a crash. House prices are stabilising in China, and are likely to rise again by the second half of this year on a year-over-year basis.

But keep in mind that because of the base effect, prices are likely to fall year-on-year at a steeper rate through much of the first half of this year, leading to a growing chorus of predictions of a housing crisis. Read more

By Joel Backaler, Author of “China Goes West”

On March 22, China National Chemical Corporation (CNCC) reached an agreement with the controlling shareholders of Italian tire-maker Pirelli to move forward with a €7bn takeover. If successful, the deal will be one of the largest overseas acquisitions of a European company by a Chinese firm to date.

While CNCC may not have the global recognition of Chinese firms such as Alibaba, Huawei and Lenovo, CNCC and its chairman, Ren Jianxin, are experienced international acquirers. Ren has acquired either directly, or via government driven consolidation, 107 domestic firms and four international businesses in France, Australia and Israel. Read more

By David Mann of Standard Chartered

Much of the negativity about world growth prospects at the moment seems to stem from the absence of a credit boom in any major market and worries over the consequences of higher US interest rates for the first time since 2006.

The lack of a credit boom means that growth is more subdued than it was in the run-up to the global financial crisis.

In particular, there are fears about China’s growth prospects, given the recent bad news concerning weak credit demand, high real interest rates and tight liquidity. However, we see three reasons for at least some optimism. Read more

The second cut in China’s interest rates in three months reveals key elements in Beijing’s thinking as it tries to reconcile an economic policy agenda beset with conflicting priorities, analysts said on Monday.

The task before China requires some delicate manoeuvres. It aims to wean the country off an extraordinary debt binge (see Martin Wolf ) while keeping GDP growth fairly robust. It hopes to combat disinflationary pressures while preventing the renminbi from sliding too sharply against the US dollar. It wants to curb a dangerous slump in industrial profits without resorting to another round of investment pump-priming. It needs to keep domestic liquidity levels buoyant in spite of a surge in capital flight.  Read more

By Guonan Ma, Bruegel

The Chinese economy is simply too big to remain tied to the once useful monetary anchor of the renminbi-US dollar peg. It is time to let it go.

The Chinese renminbi depreciated 2.5 per cent against the US dollar in 2014, the largest annual fall since 2005 when Beijing timidly started loosening its tight dollar peg. Recently, the Chinese currency has repeatedly tested the weak side of its daily trading band, despite attempts by the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) to signal a steadier bilateral renminbi-US dollar rate via its daily fixing (see chart below, left panel).

What has led to the changing fortunes of the renminbi? What lies ahead for the currency in 2015? Read more

China faces a monetary policy “wall of worry” as its economy slips towards a deflationary spiral driven by structural forces that are simultaneously dragging prices lower and depressing economic growth, analysts said on Tuesday.

The important insight, the analysts said, behind a decline in consumer price inflation (CPI) to a five year low of 0.8 per cent in January was that it was caused not by isolated or temporary factors but by a confluence of mutually-reinforcing trends that will require a concerted and accelerated easing in monetary policy if China is to avoid a deflationary cliff. Read more

By Achilles Risvas, Dromeus Capital Management

Could changing tides in “carry trade” capital flows suddenly drain value from Chinese property and equities, causing the renminbi to depreciate rapidly and darken investor perceptions of China’s prospects?

Such an outcome is more likely than generally realised.

China has undeniably boomed in recent decades, thus engendering a general bias that Chinese state planners will prevail or triumph – as suggested by the more than 60 per cent run-up in the Shanghai Composite Exchange Composite Index since mid-2014. Read more

The Bric countries – minus India – embellished their growing reputation as laggards in the emerging market (EM) universe in January as manufacturing activity in Russia and China declined and Brazil turned in another subdued performance, data published on Tuesday shows.

The result is that, as a bloc, the Bric countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) are diverging from the rest of the EM universe in manufacturing output and the trajectory of GDP growth. Other EM countries, meanwhile, are reaping the benefit of positive global demand and assuming a role as the key engines of developing world growth. Read more

Economic slowdowns in Macau and China have driven headlines recently, but a new report by the Brookings Institute ranks Macau as the top economically performing metropolitan area in the world for 2014, followed by four Chinese cities in the top 10 and 11 in the top 20.

Macau’s casino industry took a hit over the second half of 2014, due mainly to a Chinese crackdown on corruption and graft that has reduced the number of VIP high-rollers travelling to Macau from the mainland. In December, gambling revenues hit their lowest point since 2011, and for the whole year, the industry recorded its first ever year-on-year decline – much to the dismay of casino and junket operators. Read more

By Robert Moffatt, Neuberger Berman

Throughout much of the world, auto market prospects appear sluggish. In the US, auto sales are moving back to normalised replacement demand levels, implying slowing growth. In Europe, sales are being held back by a choppy economic recovery. China, in our view, presents a different story. Despite near-term concerns about the country’s slowing GDP growth and slipping consumer confidence, we are bullish on the long-term growth prospects of Chinese autos.

The Chinese auto market went through a rapid growth spurt from 2005-2010, growing nearly six-fold in six years, from 2.5m units in 2004 to 13.75m units in 2010. This unprecedented 35 per cent compounded annual growth rate has since slowed to roughly 9 per cent, but with nearly 18m cars sold in 2013, China has displaced both the U.S. and Western Europe as the world’s largest auto market (see chart below). Read more